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The Shape of Content

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  292 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
A modern painter discusses meaning and form in contemporary painting and offers advice to aspiring artists.
Paperback, 144 pages
Published January 1st 1992 by Harvard University Press (first published 1957)
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Laurie Holding
Dec 03, 2015 Laurie Holding rated it really liked it
One of my favorite human beings recommended this book to me back in the late 70's and I only grazed upon it then, too busy with the reading and writing of academic obligations. Now, on the cusp of retirement, I find it on my library's shelf, and it turns out to be his book, not given to me, but actually and personally inscribed by his mother, who is/was/will always be, way, way smarter than me. And a true artist, to boot. I thank them both, for letting me house this little volume in my house for ...more
Andrew Martin
Apr 29, 2012 Andrew Martin rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2012
As much love as I have for Ben Shahn

Farewell to New York


Shape of Content does not have 1.0 books worth of ideas, length adjusted. The last essay, "Education of an Artist," has some choice excerpts destined to be reborn as rebloggable tumblr directives
Go to an art school, or two, or three, or take art courses at night if necessary. And paint and paint and draw and draw. Know all that you can, both curricular and noncurricular – mathematics and physics and economics, logic, and particula
Nov 08, 2014 Joe rated it really liked it
I just finished this book last week on the recommendation of a friend. It's a book that I really enjoyed reading. I have a soft-spot for essays, which I consider one of the purest literary forms. Having a book full of essays by someone so likable and immediate as Ben Shahn makes this an easy read. Hearing someone accomplished talk about their craft with love and conviction is always enjoyable, especially when they can do so with a compelling narrative style (as Shahn does). His thoughts are wide ...more
Nov 14, 2011 Stephanie rated it liked it
I read some of it years ago but never finished it until today. I keep seeing the word Renaissance community everywhere. "Our values are prsumably those things which we hold most dear. They are those matters which call fourth our most enthusiastic participation, or towards which we are most compassionate about. Beliefs that light the way we behave.

Bringing Emotional Intelligence to the Workplace: A Technical Report Issued
Oct 04, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing
I first read "The Shape of Content" as an undergraduate painting student when I was reading everything about art and artmaking that I could get my hands on, trying to figure out what (and why, and how) I was doing. At that time I found it inspiring, especially the last essay on "The Education of the Artist".

Re-reading the book 22 years later, I am struck by what a deeply thoughtful person Shahn was, how articulately he described what goes into the making of art in “Biography of a Painting”, and
Sharon Bautista
Mar 06, 2016 Sharon Bautista rated it really liked it
How do we, as people living in the United States, regard artists, and how are those hopes reflected (or not) in universities, art criticism, and the canon? These are the questions Shahn sets out to answer in his famous lectures. The title lecture seems to get the most attention, but I enjoyed more his thoughts on non-conformity--the celebration of and its discontents--which is a matter of form in its own sense.
Sep 22, 2007 kimberly rated it it was amazing
If nonartists read only one book by or about art, this should be it. It's short and elegant and Shahn makes an irrefutable case that all artists have an unavoidable responsibility to society, and gets in enough fundamentals to give those uninitiated in arts a solid vocabulary to start from. Good for artists, too, of course.

Jun 23, 2012 Pete rated it really liked it
worth acquisition for the drawings alone but also a pretty great, thoughtful, immediate essay about the nature of art and its relationship to wider life by Ben Shahn, who knew some things re those topics.
Feb 26, 2009 LemontreeLime rated it really liked it
Worth finding, worth reading, and most of all worth reading the last essay "the education of the artist" several times to catch different things at different times. I forsee rereading this whole book again this year.
Jun 06, 2013 Charlie rated it really liked it
Books of essays are tricky to rate. Sometimes it got a bit dull, other times it was very passionate and star- or underline-worthy. I did enjoy it, though, and am pleased to have just stumbled across it. I ought to read more books about art.
Jul 05, 2008 Ruzz rated it really liked it
I have only the slightest memory of the first reading, though i do recall it being rife with complex ideas that required further thought. It's on my reread list for sometime later this year or early next and I will give a proper review at that time.
Apr 02, 2010 Brian rated it it was amazing
Intended for art students, this is a book that everyone can benefit from reading as an instructional on how to "see" the world and maximize every experience, even those that initially seem irrelevant or boring.
Aug 31, 2008 Katie rated it really liked it
This book was very much into the painting aspect and less about writing. It was very interesting how form and content were expressed in regard to painting.
Jul 19, 2011 Leah added it
Found this on my bookshelf and am interested to take another look. I read this years ago in college for a comm. studies class. I certainly do like the title.
Widgets &
Apr 18, 2011 Widgets & rated it liked it
A good set of lectures from the fine artist Ben Shahn (whose work I was never very impressed with) but his thoughts on creativity and work struck me as pretty insightful.
Dexter Miranda
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“If what any artist has to say is fundamentally human and profound the public will ultimately take his work unto itself. But if his own conceptions are limited and narrow in their human meaning it seems likely that time will erase his work.” 0 likes
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